Best Shoe Horns: A Brief History
Shoemakers have been using wooden horns since ancient times. They were used to blow air into the shoes when they were being made. Wooden horns are still widely used today in many parts of the world, including China, Japan, Korea and India. Some of these countries even use them for their national festivals!
The first known mention of a shoe horn was in 1593 in England. There were several different types of shoemaker’s horns, but the most common ones were made from wood and had no handle at all. These were called “wooden” or “hornet” shooes because they looked like little bees’ nests with wings.
In 1829, the first patent was granted to John T. Dennison for a metal horn that could be blown into shoes. The design of this horn was based on the shape of a bee’s nest. By 1840, there were over 200 patents issued for various kinds of shoe horns. At one time, it seemed like every country had its own kind of shoe horn.
Most of the early metal shoe horns had hollow handles with holes at the business end to fit over a man’s fingers. One person blew into one end of the handle while another pushed it into the shoe. It was easy to get them stuck in there. In fact, you could get your entire arm stuck in there if you weren’t careful! This was VERY common…and you could even lose a finger in the process.
This is probably why people were using the “wooden” hornets instead of metal horns. While they weren’t as sturdy, they were much less likely to get stuck in your arm, and they didn’t have sharp edges like the metal ones did.
By 1890, the metal shoe horn was considered standard equipment for most men when putting on their shoes. Because they were made of metal and hollow inside, they were very sturdy and lasted a long time.
Metal shoe horns have been used in the U.S. ever since. In fact, they are still used today by a lot of people. While there have been many different horn designs over the years, they all have one thing in common…they are sturdy and easy to use.
The first known patent for a plastic shoe horn in the U.S. was in 1937. The first one was called the “El Cheap-O” shoe horn made of hard rubber. It had a 2 1/2 inch handle and fit into a pouch that could be attached to a key chain.
They were sold as a novelty item and advertised as the “pocket pal for your feet.”
The next shoe horn to be patented in the U.S. was in 1958. It was made of hard plastic and had a woven texture on one side for better grip. There were also holes in the handle to keep your fingers from slipping off.
In 1972, a U.S. patent was issued for another type of shoe horn that could be made of various materials including wood, metal, plastic or rubber. The handle was designed so it could fit into a briefcase.
Many types of shoe horns have been created over the years. Some of them had flat handles; some of them were curved. Some were made of wood; some were made of plastic or metal. They all eventually found a place in a man’s wardrobe and all were designed to make putting on your shoes a little easier.
Today, many people still use shoe horns even though they probably don’t know it! Those curved handles on the sides of Aluminum or Steel shoe trees are designed to help you slip your foot into your shoe. The metal mesh that is inside the tree is for shaping the shoe to keep it from collapsing while it is being stored.
So remember…next time you put on your favorite pair of shoes, give the humble shoe horn a tip of the hat for making it all possible!
I hope you found this History of the Shoe Horn article interesting. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me.
Sources & references used in this article:
Shoe-horn. by HG Weeks – US Patent 865,462, 1907 – Google Patents
Shoe horns by OF Stearns – US Patent 3,165,246, 1965 – Google Patents
Combination shoehorn and shoe counter clip by MT Maguire – US Patent 6,698,630, 2004 – Google Patents